Maine state police withheld disciplinary records from soldiers, lawsuit reveals

This story will be updated.

Maine State Police have withheld information about nine separate times they disciplined employees for misconduct over a five-year period. It finally took a lawsuit from two Maine newspapers to force the state’s largest police department to turn over the undisclosed disciplinary records, which it did late Friday afternoon more than two years after the newspapers asked for them.

In a lawsuit filed last year, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald argued that key parts of the disciplinary records provided to the newspapers had been unlawfully redacted and that some of the records referenced additional disciplinary action that had not been turned over, with the result that important information about police misconduct remained hidden.

On May 31, a Superior Court judge ordered state police to lift the redactions and conduct another search for misconduct records, which are public under Maine law. Days later, state police turned over unredacted documents revealing how officials covered up descriptions of misconduct as well as vague language that continued to obscure why officers were punished.

On Friday, the agency responded to the judge’s remaining request to turn over disciplinary records that it had not initially made public. It’s unclear why the state police didn’t originally release them. Under their union agreement, soldiers can ask state police to remove corrective memoranda, reprimands, and suspensions from their personnel records after varying periods of time. But these documents are still considered public records.

The attorney general’s office, which represented the state police in court, did not respond to questions from the BDN about why law enforcement officials had not turned over the additional documents until present, how the state police intended to correct their practices in handling requests for records, and whether anyone had been disciplined for providing an incomplete set of records.

Almost all of the nine files, for eight employees, documented minor penalties for policy violations primarily related to conduct.

Between 2016 and 2019, the agency disciplined six soldiers — one of them twice in two months — a detective and an Identification Bureau specialist. They were punished for reckless or distracted driving, using a state laptop to instant message about personal business and failing to properly request time out of the office, records show. The agency also provided a final opinion from the state Labor Relations Board confirming the demotion of a soldier for retaliating against two other soldiers.